Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pre-show coaching for Youth improvisers

We're in the final stages of the Youth Theatresports Festival 2010 here in Brisbane. This year over 100 high school teams took part from all over South-East Queensland. Seven teams battle it out in each of three semi-finals, and the top two from each semi goes to the Grand Final in a few weeks.

Last year, in Mysterious Whisper (yep, back when I was still ripping off They Might Be Giants songs for post titles), I touched on the stuff we talk about with the kids before the show. Some of the advice/coaching is based on how music forms a part of the show for the night. I'll also discuss some of the things that I want to see them do more or less of to support the show, even if it's not about music.

The musician can support scenes with mood music and underscoring. It is the musician's job to amplify the emotion the players are putting in to the scene, and react to emotional changes as they happen. Players - don't freak out that the extra musical element is suddenly present. It is there to provide support.

Sometimes the musician will stay out of it, if the scene doesn't need music. It's not a comment on the quality of the scene; it's just that the scene doesn't want that extra element, something we've talked about before.

In a musical game, the musician will give direction in the form of musical offers. Any good musician will follow the folks on stage, and sometimes the musician will make offers of their own; listen to those offers and take them on.

The musician will take direction if the players have something specific they want. It might be that they want a specific style for a song - or even no music at all. (Sob, sniffle.)

The aftermath of the 2009 Youth Finals
Team intros can benefit from accompaniment. Musicians here are pretty used to requests to accompany intros: "Do you know any good ninja/cowboy/jungle/gangster music?"

Shut up! Youth players can have a tendency to talk while other teams are on stage. Aside from being disrespectful to other performers, it means they're missing out on a prime learning experience - watching other teams. Watching another team doing well (or doing badly) is excellent coaching.

Play forward! Kids who are maybe a little nervous about getting up and doing this might hug the back of the stage, and that doesn't help. Even pros need the "play forward" reminder now and again.

Come back! I hate that we see really talented kids go through high school impro programmes (improgrammes?), then once grade twelve is over, they leave impro behind. We always make sure to let the kids know about the variety of improvised theatre in the city - workshops, rookie shows, intermediate shows, pro shows, short-form, long-form, corporate gigs. You don't have to be a capital-a Actor to do impro as an adult; most improvisers I know come from other professions - teaching, human resources, graphic design, law, advertising, journalism... Software development - so many grown-up nerds do Impro; one of my impro colleagues here is a software architect with Boeing, another worked on an Emmy-award-winning digital media project for a major TV network. Graduating high school doesn't mean giving this thing away, and we do what we can to encourage the kids to come back and do more.

Don't Stop Believin' - Epilogue

While we're here, another Youth Theatresports-sort-of-related story: You might recall a few years ago some kids freaked me out by singing along to Don't Stop Believin' - bizarre because the song is relatively unknown in Australia, and I thought I could get away with playing it unnoticed. Well, it used to be unknown - fast forward to this year, and courtesy of Glee, that song is suddenly quite well known. At last night's show, the Glee cast version was playing during interval, and you could see plenty of audience members singing along. Thanks Glee!

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